Each year the Social Innovation Forum selects a portfolio of Social Innovators and Impact Entrepreneurs from throughout eastern Mass., who are seeking capacity building assistance in order to grow to the next level of their work and make a bigger impact. We recently wrapped up the difficult process of reviewing more than 100 applications, and we selected a strong group of finalists thanks to a purposefully diverse group of experts who volunteer their time as reviewers.
Along with funders, we have issue experts, practitioners, and academics who each bring their own perspective to the process. Together they not only review the applications but also discuss in-depth the range of challenges facing the social issue area to determine if and how each Innovator or Entrepreneur can provide a solution. Whether the discussion is around sustainability, services for veterans, or programs for youth in Gateway Cities, having diverse voices in the room results in a very thoughtful process of narrowing the pool down, as well as a valuable learning opportunity for reviewers. Reviewers have a chance to see the issue through one another’s lens, and can experience a shift in their thinking after being exposed to new information – even coming to a new conclusion. I have witnessed reviewers expanding and changing their views as they hear a new voice offer a position they might not have previously considered, such as the true challenges facing a particular population from someone who is working “on the ground.”
What intrigues me most about this phase of the Social Innovation Forum is that often in our work we make decisions with colleagues who are rooted in our own belief system and doing work nearly the same way as we are. The Social Innovation Forum’s process allows the “other” voices to be heard and respected, and those reflections provide everyone with a refreshing glimpse of collaboration.
Recently, at the end of the application review meeting for the mental health track, I reflected upon the three hours I had spent helping guide the group as they selected their finalists. We had gone through some deep and thoughtful conversations, with clinicians and funders at the same table. The clinicians appreciated having the unique opportunity to share with funders what some of the core challenges are in their work and begin a dialogue that they are often too busy to have while focused on the day-to-day. They felt heard and respected, and to me, it seemed that important discussions had started to happen. At several of the sessions, reviewers requested each other’s contact information, so they could continue the bigger-level social change conversations outside of the review meeting.
As the Social Innovation Forum now moves into the interview stage, I remain indebted to more than the 70 volunteers who have stepped forward to be a part of our larger mission – to accelerate progress on social issues by allocating resources based on performance. I hope they will continue to have these critical conversations with other voices and perspectives out in the “real world,” which I believe will ultimately help strengthen the philanthropic sector and make lasting change a reality. I see the value of this process shine through each year in the quality of our finalists, and it is especially evident at the Showcase each spring. I continue to be impressed and excited to see how decision making with a group is always so much more effective than each of us acting alone.
Stay tuned for when we announce our finalist list in early November, and please plan to join us for the Social Innovation Forum’s Winter Reception and 10th Anniversary Celebration on December 10.